Editorial: Do Drug Laws Affect Drug Use Rates? Evidently Not

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
Do drug laws affect drug use rates?

It's a core prohibitionist assumption that they do. Pass "tough" drug laws -- harsher penalties, drug testing, more arrests -- and use will decline. Liberalize drug laws -- decrim, medical marijuana, harm reduction -- and drug use will undoubtedly skyrocket, society will implode, etc. It'll be the '70s all over again -- maybe even the '60s.

As it turns out, however, that's simply not true. Study after study has failed to find any increase in marijuana use following the passage of decriminalization laws in many US states, for example. People are more complex than the simplistic boxes that drug warriors try to put them in.

Add one more study to the pile -- an important one. This study, carried out in conjunction with the most recent World Health Organization "Mental Health Surveys," boasts nineteen authors -- yes, nineteen -- from eighteen different countries on every continent. They examined data on drug use from seventeen countries.

This diverse, respectable group of academics from around the world determined that "[d]rug use does not appear to be related to drug policy, as countries with more stringent policies (e.g., the US) did not have lower levels of illegal drug use than countries with more liberal policies (e.g., The Netherlands)."

In other words, the drug war is all for nothing. So what's the point of it? We've proven that we can invent more and more ways of ruining or interfering with people's lives. But ruining lives isn't a policy goal worth our dollars, or that our consciences should tolerate. If harsh policies don't stop sellers, as we discussed last week -- and if they don't deter users, as this week's major report has shown -- then what's left? Nothing worthwhile.

Sticklers will say that liberalizing drug laws under prohibition, as the WHO group studied, is not the same as actual legalization, in which drug sales will be conducted openly, prices will drop, ads may even run. And on that level they are right -- drug decriminalization is not the same thing as drug legalization, to be sure.

But they're also wrong. It's true that no country today provides a demonstration of outright legalization, not even the Netherlands. But the experience of users of marijuana in the Netherlands is one that approximates legalization, because the consequences of keeping the trade illegal are only felt at multiple stages back in the supply chain. The experience of entering an Amsterdam or Maastricht "coffee shop" is not a criminal underground experience, even though they have to go to the underground to get the stuff to sell, and that is what is relevant to marijuana use and the impact that the policy has on users.

Yet as the WHO data shows, marijuana use in the Netherlands does not stand out from other countries in the neighborhood, and is a fraction of the amount of it we have here in the United states despite more than 700,000 arrests for the substance each year and a wide range of collateral sanctions that can dog people for life. But we know the harm that prohibition does.

So how about we just stop the whole thing, end the drug war and legalize drugs? Who else thinks we should do that?

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Right Reverend Gregory Karl Davis's picture

The New Church Age prophesies setting the prisoners free

These Greetings are posted in Jesus Anointed (with marijuana) who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The prophetic Word is revealed on www.universalorthodox.org and the literal Word is understood in the genuine sense through the study there entitled "Marijuana in the Bible"

Enough Said

Prison industrial complex = Religious psychological pathology. Add to that a liberal dose of corruption and profits and you have the perfect breeding ground for fascism.

I'm not so sure

I'm for legalization, i think even if there was an increase in use, it's more likely that we'll be better off with legal drugs. However, i do think there's a real possibility that drug use would go up significantly.

The Netherlands is just one country. That for sure is a great example of drug use not increasing, but it's just one country. Other than decrim, harm reduction, and medical marijuana, there really are no differences in policy in the rest of the countries. Everywhere drugs are pretty much just illegal. To really know, we'd have to have at least a few other examples of countries where they are legal. And not just marijuana, we need to see cocaine legal somewhere. Cocaine and other stimulants are the real tests because they're such social drugs. What's going to happen when you have people getting together to drink and do coke legally? That's what i want to know.

Another thing: restrictions on tobacco (no smoking in public places, no advertisements) have been effective. Tobacco use has significantly decreased.

Criminals control the drug market better than our Govt?

"I'm for legalization, i think even if there was an increase in use, it's more likely that we'll be better off with legal drugs. However, i do think there's a real possibility that drug use would go up significantly.."

According to the CDC, tobacco cigarette use has fallen below marijuana use among high school students in many major cities. Why do you think these markets controlled by criminals are better at keeping kids drug free than if they were regulated by our govt? To me, opening the door to meth dealers to control the marijuana market is not the path to reducing drug use, especially hard drugs, and sends the wrong message.

Malkavian's picture

Don't make excuses regarding legalization

We hear that accusation often: "legalization is a purely theoretical proposition, you can't KNOW how it's gonna work because drugs aren't legalized anywhere".

I think we need to remind those people that the "legalized state" is the state that MOST products and services are in. They are at their root legal, but that doesn't prevent anyone from wrapping a comfortable, warm blanket of regulation around it.

Everything's pretty much regulated, it's almost only drugs that aren't. Only with regard to drugs do we go straight for blanket criminalization to the mutual exclusion of any regulation what so ever.

Of course we can't entirely claim to know, but considering the abject failure of prohibition it is at least morally and practically imperative that we explore new ways of handling the drug problem.

tempuser30023's picture

Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1948]

Preamble
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable
Rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice
And peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous
Acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world
In which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from
Fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common
People,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a
Last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights
Should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations
Between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed
Their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human
Person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote
Social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation
With the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance
Of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the
Greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, therefore,
The General Assembly
Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of
Achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual
And every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall
Strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and
Freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure
Their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples
Of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their
Jurisdiction.

Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are
Endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a
Spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this
Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex,
Language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin,
Property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political,
Jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a
Person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under
Any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.

Article 4
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade.
Shall be prohibited, in all their forms.

Article 5
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment.

Article 6
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to
equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and
against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national
tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the
constitution or by law.

Article 9
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair, and public hearing by an
Independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and
Obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11
1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed
innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has
had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or
omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or
international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier
penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal
offence was committed.

Article 12
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family,
home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone
has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the
borders of each State.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to
return to his country.

Article 14
1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum
from persecution.
2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely
arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and
principles of the United Nations.

Article 15
1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the
right to change his nationality.

Article 16
1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race,
nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They
are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its
dissolution.
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the
intending spouses.
3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is
entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17
1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association
with others.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this
right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either
alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his
religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right
includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and
impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21
1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country,
directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government;
this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by
universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent
free voting procedures.

Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is
entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation
and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the
economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free
development of his personality.

Article 23
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and
favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for
equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration
ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and
supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the
protection of his interests.

Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation
of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health
and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing
and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the
event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of
livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.
All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social
protection.

Article 26
1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least
in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be
compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally
available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis
of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental
freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all
nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the
United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be
given to their children.

Article 27
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the
community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its
benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material
interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of
which he is the author.

Article 28
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights
and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29
1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full
development of his personality is possible.
2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject
only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of
securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and
of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general
welfare in a democratic society.
3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the
purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State,
group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed
at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Malkavian's picture

Dude - that picture is just too big

Would you be so kind and make it a wee smaller, please.

too big

[email protected],Vancouver,B.C.Canada I had a picture posted in the first months on the site and they're all that big.That's a relatively small one.It's on the program end.I'll speak to Dave about it.Mine even scared the hell outta me.

Your Bono depends on Cui you are

It's obvious why the Oppression Industry supports current drug laws; but that can't explain their general appeal. I don't think the facts you (David Borden) cite address the emotional benefits that subscribing to anti-drug policies provide. And I don't think more, harder facts is the answer.

What's the Point of It?

Attraction to tyranny is the point for maintaining the drug laws.

Totalitarian rulers often start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones.  The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time is a morbid force of attraction.”  Franz Borkenau—The Totalitarian Enemy (1940) p. 231.

Bolsheviks bragged in their party propaganda that they did not recognize status quo moral standards, such as those that allowed individual freedoms, or excluded torture and genocide.  The experiences of the Nazis and the Bolsheviks proved time and again that the attraction to evil, championed by a propaganda of contempt for humane moral standards, was more powerful than self interest.

Giordano

Manke v Iowa wherein iowa

Manke v Iowa wherein iowa murdered my eleven year old daughter with a forced on her drug overdose. 800,000 cannabis related arrests and detentions of various sorts in the last year. the destruction of the soil of the cotton producing states and the tremendous over use of petrolium based fertilizers to support cotton.

all pieces of the puzzle that the lawyers here in iowa need to recognize. The lawyers do not replace the public vote to impliment, nor the scientists for developing the facts.

The drug war is a failed concept and supported by psuedoscience, however firmly gripped by deliberate indifferent state representatives.

36%

At 2,396,684,904 the populations represented by the WHO study are 36% of the population of the world.

If Prohibition does not negatively impact drug use

Does prohibition positively impact drug use?

Since it the United States government that incessantly demonizes
the Netherlands drug policies the U.S. government itself makes the comparison between the two nations. It is then valid for everyone to make the comparison.

35.9% more American kids are smoking pot by age 21 than Dutch kids.

65% more American kids than Dutch kids are smoking pot by age 15.

American prohibition seems to be putting more drugs into the hands of more kids.

Wow

Websites like this truly stun me. Learn some history. Not alcohol prohibition, which is more indicative of what happens when banning, say, alcohol, but a little further back in history to the tragic Chinese Opium Wars. China was a country which despised the opium trade and the damage it did to it people. Yet, the British and the East India Trading Company, using many of your arguments but mostly motivated by greed, waged war twice on the Chinese and eventually made them sign a treaty legalizing it. According to you guys this should have been the dreamy non-repressive society you all claim to want to achieve. Not exactly. The already huge drug addict population exploded. Historians estimate the number of addicts was somewhere between 10% and 33% of the population. Can we imagine anything close to that in a modern society? China would have gladly grappled with drug gangs in exchange for a functioning society. Read a history of the opium wars and then say you favor legalization. I don't know how it could be done. Fortunately today, Britain, the Western world, and the rest of the world have wised up. You guys still haven't. Legalization has no real support for good reasons. Be drug reformers, not legalizers. For a Chinese citizen of the 19th Century to hear that there are some who would adopt the arguments of the East India Trading Company and voluntarily and enthusiastically usher legalization back would stun them. It should stun us today.

Wow... very perceptive

"China was a country which despised the opium trade and the damage it did to it people. Yet, the British and the East India Trading Company, using many of your arguments but mostly motivated by greed, waged war twice on the Chinese and eventually made them sign a treaty legalizing it. According to you guys this should have been the dreamy non-repressive society you all claim to want to achieve."

Wow, very perceptive. I've always thought the REAL REAL goal of so-called drug policy reform is to create a strong oppressive government that will force the markets for opium and other drugs on the general public.

how can you compare drug

how can you compare drug lehalization with the forced drug trade at the end of a cannon that the brittish forced on china. drug use is a personal choice, no one should be forced to use or nopt to use any drug, alcohol is legal, but regulated, and it is the same as any other drug but pot, which is less harmfull than alcohol and the other recreational drugs.

So what is wrong with legalized, regulated drug trade if it is already the international chosen method of the alcohol drug trade? Legalization means(among other things) and end to the hypocrissy of this drug(alcohol) is fine to use as an adult with no prescription or anything, but these drugs aren't, even though all data shows that alcohol is the same if not worse than any drug on the dea's controlled substances list.

So if you argue against legalization, you argue against alcohol legalization and argue for alcohol prohibition.

Also, since you brought up history, drugs were legal in this country up untill the 20th century, and no scholar can find any evidence of a society in any way as bad off as we are today with our drug war and our capitalist war on the 95% of people who aren't rich. There were no problems of people stealing for their drugs as that only started in any signifigant numbers AFTER criminalization borught the price up on mere vegetable matter to roughly the price of gold.

Legalization is the only workable solution, as well as the only moral one, if you respect human rights at all, the same way regulated legalization was deemed the only practical soloution to the alcohol drug trade. Any "reform" outside of legalization and regulation will ensure the continuation of the cartels and the corruption of a black market. And that doesn't even take into account that the government doesn't have the constitutional authority to decide what you do, or don't, put into your body.

The only legal issue is, does one person infringe on the rights of another. If not, no crime has been commited, and if so, then the offender must answer for the crime, NOT the use of drugs which may or may not have led to it. Just as driving drunk is illegal, but BEING drunk is NOT, you can't outlaw an activity because someone MIGHT do something illegal afterwards, that's a basic tennet of our criminal justice system, you can't punish all people because SOME do something wrong. Or, if a man is drunk and kills his wife you don't see anyone trying to sue budweiser or ban alcohol again, the idea is laughable because of the epic failure of the original prohibition, why is it not laughable then to continue this tragic joke that is Prohibition 2, The Sequel?

So, if you are against the legalized regulation of drugs, then you should be fighting to put alchol on the schedule and ban it from all use. Have you ever read the definition of a controlled substance according to the illegal list? It's any mood altering chemical, and in the case of the top tier (the socalled worst drugs) have no medical value. Whens the last time your doctor gave you a prescription for whiskey? It's long past time for this myth that alcohol is some how different from drugs to end. I never want to hear the phrase "drugs AND alcohol" again, alcohol IS a drug, worse than pot, not as bad as some others.

I don't drink but i don't say that people who do are criminals because their taste in inebrients is different from mine, why is it that drinkers can't seem to wrap their heads around the reverse of this concept? I blame cultural bias and retardation.

Societal Maturity

I think it is feasible to assume that since the opium wars in china that societies have evolved a lot, especially our own. Drug knowledge is far and wide reaching in our country. The negative affects are also widely known. It's often easy to look at the past and assume history will repeat itself; while a good saying it is not always true. Comparing modern day society to that of china's in the 1800's will get you nowhere.

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